Obesity in the United States has increasingly become a key social and health concern in the recent decades. While there are obesity cases in other countries, the United States leads the world with the highest obesity rates (Baskin, Ard, Franklin, and Allison 5-7). The prevalence of obesity remains high in America with a steady increase being recorded over the years. For instance, in 1997, 2004, and 2007, the obesity rates were 19.4%, 24.5%, and 26.6% respectively (Ogden, Carroll, and Curtin 1549-1555). Between 2008 and 2010, obesity rates amongst American adults also increased from 33.8% to 35.7%, while, in children, it remained constant at 17%. With regards to gender, the obesity rates among men and women were found to be 32.2% and 35.5% respectively in 2008 (Ogden et al. 1549-1555). Though the rates have significantly increased among men in the past years, no considerable increases have been observed in women. In addition, significant increases in the incidence of overweight amongst American adolescents and children have also been observed over the years (Ogden et. Al 1549-1555).
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According to researchers, the cause of obesity in adults can be traced back to their childhood; an implication that obesity has both short and long-term impacts, affecting both their physical and psychosocial health (Baskin et al. 5-7). A lot of children are now being diagnosed with adult conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol levels etc, and there is a high likelihood that they will carry the obesity burden into adulthood if the right measures are not taken early enough to avert the problem. Research shows that overweight children, who develop into obese adolescents and adults, have high chances of developing health complications. Abnormalities of cardiovascular consequences in adulthood are examples of problems that begin in childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is directly related to increased energy consumption of diet, sedentary lifestyle and decrease in physical activity levels (Summerbell 1-70). If appropriate measures are not taken to curb obesity, there is a high likelihood that about 42% of the whole population of the United States will become obese in next ten years (Baskin et. al 5-7). While obese population is gradually rising, various social issues are occurring as well, particularly, the projected high cost of treating obesity-related illnesses. Other than the medical expenses, obesity is also associated with psychological problems, such as depression, social withdrawal, and low self-esteem among others. Child obesity does not only ruin the present lives but their future too.
The United States has started recognizing the gravity of child obesity and, consequently, it has set-up strict policies to curb the problem. In my opinion, children ought to be taught both at school and home on the significance of proper nutrition and healthy eating while they are still young, so that they can maintain healthy lifestyles even in adulthood. Parents can manage their children’s weight, by encouraging the eating of low-calorie foods, and more casual activities, such as walking or riding a bike to school (Summerbell 1-70). This is because parents understand better how obesity in their children affects them, ranging from the high cost of medical bills in treating obesity-related health problems as a result of health complications, to social problems, such as being bullied or discriminated against in school. Teachers should also make sports compulsory for all students, to encourage physical activity. In addition, the government of America should regulate the preparation of fast foods in all fast food restaurants, to ensure that their calories are reduced within the recommended levels (Summerbell 1-70). Fast food consumption is the primary cause of obesity (Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro 93); therefore, if they are made with relatively low-calorie healthy ingredients, there is a high likelihood that obesity will be significantly reduced among Americans. The result will be lower risks of having obesity, which translates to a healthy generation. This paper presents a discussion of obesity in the United States, including, some background information, causes, effects, as well as solutions for the obesity problem.
The background information of Obesity in America
The American society considers obesity as one of the leading health concerns today. According to Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro (93), the average weight of Americans has been observed to be increasing over the years, despite advice from health experts on the importance of living healthy lifestyles. Given this continuous growth in their weights, obesity has increased significantly in the United States. It is estimated that sixty million American adults are obese, while one hundred and twenty-seven million others are overweight. The incidence of obesity is highest in America compared to other developed countries around the world (Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro, 93), and it cuts across all sectors of American population. Also, there is an increasing concern for the alarming number of teenagers and children who are overweight in America. It is estimated that 15% of American children are overweight in comparison to only 4% some decades ago.
There is a direct connection between the fast food consumption and obesity. People who consume fast foods more than two times a week weigh on average five extra pounds compared to those who eat fast foods occasionally (Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro 93). It is estimated that a number of fast foods American children consume is five times higher than children consumed in the 1980s. The negative effects of obesity on the health of Americans are far-ranging and numerous. It is estimated that every year the United States spends more than 150 billion dollars on obesity-related health conditions, and about 300,000 untimely deaths occur because of obesity Cutler, Glaeser and Shapiro 93).
Since 1980, there has been a significant increase in calorie consumption by Americans, and this has been attributed to the advancement of technology, such as vacuum packing, deep freezing, improved preservatives, microwaves and artificial flavors, which make foods available for instant consumption (Cutlter, Glaeser and Shapiro 94). A majority of food preparations and eating are no longer done at home. A wide variety of fast food restaurants have become widely accessible to consumers, and people are increasingly turning to fast food consumption. The easy accessibility of fast foods is the reason behind the increasing obesity rates in the country.
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The United States is the leading world producer of fast food. American fast food restaurants are found in over one hundred countries worldwide (Ames 295 – 299). Approximately two million employees in the United States are employed in the fast food industry, including such areas as food servicing and preparation. There are available more than 200, 000 restaurants, generating a revenue of $ 120 billion in sales in the U.S. alone. The key players in the American fast food industry include McDonalds’, Domino Pizza, Yum Brands, Sonic, as well as Wendy’s (Ames 295 – 299). Fast food consumption has become increasingly popular amongst Americans. This has been attributed to increased advertising of fast foods, the fast-paced lifestyle of Americans, as well as the exponential increase of fast food restaurants (Ames 295 – 299). Though fast food is highly convenient, which helps to save time, thus increasing people’s efficiency, they have come under sharp criticisms over their negative effects on human health.
Despite the conventional beliefs that fast food is to blame for causing obesity, some argue that fast food is not to blame for causing obesity, for it is an individual’s responsibility (Ames 295 – 299). It is crucial to mention that the accountability of individuals on food choices has been overlooked in the obesity debate. In Fast Food is not to Blame (295-299), Ames argues that fast food consumers are totally to blame for ending up with excessive fat deposits in their body, since they are not responsible for their own actions. People choose what to purchase and eat, and are not coerced to buy and consume fast foods. Therefore, the blame must not be put on fast foods but on the consumers. He continues to argue that the blame on fast foods and fast food restaurants as the leading cause of obesity is no longer accepted. It is the individuals and not fast foods who should be held liable for their weight gains. It is their lifestyle that causes them to gain weight and have excessive fat deposits. Poor diet and lack of physical activities also cause obesity among people.
Causes of Obesity in the United States
Eating, excess calories than the body can burn results in obesity. In the United States, the changing environment has broadened food options and eating habits of people. Supermarkets shelves are stocked with a wide selection of foods, such as fast foods, pre-packaged foods (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Numerous fast food restaurants have also thrived in the U. S., such as McDonalds’, selling people high calorie-foods, in the name of convenience, thus contributing to the excess caloric intake, causing the weight gain. Fast foods are notorious for their high calories, salt, sugar, fat; all of which have been linked to obesity. Food portion servings have also been increased considerably in restaurants and homes (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). According to Wellman and Friedberg (S705-S709), the portion serving of a hamburger was 1 oz. in the year 1957; however, this has increased to almost 6 oz. forty years later (1997). This has contributed significantly to obesity among Americans.
Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles
Research indicates that a decrease in the amount of energy one spends daily, without an associated decrease in the overall energy consumption, is a leading contributor to obesity (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Children spend most of their leisure time before the computer and television, playing video games, or watching cartoon programs. Children in the U. S., for instance, spend about of 25% of their waking time in front of the television. This, when coupled with the associated intake of high calorie snacks during that time, increases obesity in children (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Research has also reported that schools have drastically decreased the amount of time that children engage in physical activity. The insufficient or total lack of physical activity, in addition to, intake of excess calories, puts children at risk of being obese. Childhood obesity, if not put under control, is likely to result in adulthood obesity, which has several health effects from heart disease, diabetes, to cancer (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709).
Researchers have classified the physical environment, among the risk factors contributing to the rapid increase of obesity both in children and adults. For instance, the developed environments, in the urban areas have been a hindrance for children to engage in physical activity due to the limited space outdoors for children to play, insecurity in the neighborhoods, unattended dogs, as well as traffic jam (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). All these prevent both children from engaging in physical activities, such as walking, biking, running etc, as a way of exercising.
Studies have proved that genetic susceptibility is a risk factor that causes obesity in America (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). People, who are biologically related, exhibit resemblance in maintenance of their body weights. It is estimated that 5-40% of obesity cases in children, are hereditary (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). In addition, a child whose parents are both obese, have 75% probability of being obese, while a child, with only one obese parent, has 25-50% of being obese (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709).
Advertising and marketing
Advertising has adverse effects on Americans, in terms of their food consumption, preferences and behavior. One study revealed a significant correlation between the weekly viewing of the television among three-year-old children, and their food requests, as well as the parental purchases of the foods that were advertised on television. While some foods are advertised as fat-free, low-fat, or healthy, they contain extra calories compared to the food products they are supposed to replace (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Such misguided, notions, have lured Americans, especially children to pressure their parents to buy for them the foods they have seen on TV. Parents, on the other hand, have yielded to the demands of their children, despite knowing that such foods contain high calories.
In the current world, where people are too busy studying, working, or schooling, etc. to improve their lives, Americans are not left behind. They are faced with constant pressure brought about by competition and the need for success. The fast-paced lifestyle of Americans is sometimes filled with stress, which can lead them to overeat as a way to escape from their problems, or for comfort (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Therefore, stress has been found to cause obesity among Americans.
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Effects of Obesity on Americans
The negative effects of obesity on human health are far-ranging and numerous and are discussed below:
Obesity increases the risk of getting various heart problems, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis etc. Fast foods, which are the main cause of obesity, contain high fat levels, which can build up in arteries, narrowing them, and leading to decreased blood flow into the heart. This can either cause a heart attack, or angina (chest pain). It has been found that atherosclerosis, a heart disease, is present in obese Americans ten times more than non-obese Americans (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Overweight children are prone to getting high blood pressure, a condition with visible no signs, but can lead to heart disease when left untreated. In addition, numerous fast foods contain high saturated fat that leads to high levels of cholesterol. High cholesterol levels when left untreated, can lead to stroke.
Obesity is the main cause of Type 2 Diabetes, which normally starts during adulthood. However, in the recent past, even children have been found to be suffering from Type 2 Diabetes; an indication that obesity has taken a toll on the American children too (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Obesity causes insulin resistance (a hormone that controls blood sugar), which leads to elevation of blood sugar level causing diabetes. It has been found that even moderate obesity can dramatically increase the risk of getting diabetes (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709).
Overweight and obese people have a high risk of getting various types of cancers, such as breast, uterus, prostate, and colon cancers. For instance, obese women are 3 to 4 times more at risk of getting endometrial cancer than those with relatively lower BMI. Obese men, on the other hand, also have a higher risk of prostate and colon cancers (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Other health problems caused by obesity include joint pains, mobility impairment, infertility, kidney disease, arthritis, liver disease, as well as gallbladder disease. In addition, obesity also increases the risk of excessive sweating, shortness of breath, backache, and poor skin conditions.
The medical expenditure on obesity-related diseases has been on the increase in America in the recent past. It is estimated that, in 1995, the U.S. Government spent $ 51.64 billion on direct medical cost of obesity, and $99.2 billion on indirect economic loss. This figures rose in 2000 to $ 61 billion for direct medical costs and $ 117 billion for indirect economic loss (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States spent $ 75 billion on obesity-related medical expenses in 2003. Currently, it is estimated that about 150 billion dollars is spent annually on obesity-related health conditions.
Psychological effects of Obesity
Other than the health effects, obesity also affects negatively the mental health of people. Obese adults feel physically unattractive because of their weight, and as a result, they are extremely self-conscious (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Consequently, they tend to avoid social places for fear of being teased and ridiculed by the public. A majority of people believe that obese people are morally weak, or they lack self-discipline, and; therefore, feel discrimination against them. Such attitudes exist in almost all societal sectors from employment to learning institutions, where obese and overweight people are denied admission to schools, or job promotions simply because they are fat (Wellman, and Friedberg S705-S709). Such unpleasant experiences on a daily basis can lead to depression, low self-esteem and anxiety.
Solutions for the Obesity in America
In my opinion, the only feasible solution to the obesity problem in America lies with parents. This is because parents understand better how obesity affects their children: from the high cost of medical bills in treating obesity-related health problems, to discrimination and anxiety that their children are subjected to in their daily life. Parents should encourage healthy lifestyles in their children right from childhood by emphasizing on the eating of low-calorie nutritious foods and more physical activities like walking or biking to school (Summerbell 1-70). Because obesity is a national problem, there is a need for the cooperation of all stakeholders, to stamp out this problem wholly from America.